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Fbi Chief Hits Snags As He Polishes Image Lab Critics, Atlanta Bomb Woes Add To Agency’s Load Of Troubles

FBI director Louis J. Freeh, after six months of near hibernation as criticism of the bureau mounted, has mounted a campaign to restore the bureau’s aura.

The FBI is still taking massive hits for its conduct of the Atlanta Olympic bombing investigation. Even its fabled crime laboratory’s reputation has been sullied, tarnishing respect created over the decades on radio and television and in scores of movies.

In the face of the storm, Freeh has been meeting television anchormen, editorial writers and reporters to deflect the criticism and polish the bureau’s image. He recalls triumphs like the swift Oklahoma City bombing arrests, points out little-noticed successes like the rescue of a kidnapped infant in Puerto Rico and declares: “My morale is fine.”

But just weeks after Freeh began his effort, new storms broke:

A critical draft Justice Department report prompted transfer of three supervisors from the lab and raised the possibility that prosecutions, perhaps even the Oklahoma City case, might be harmed.

The bureau suspended the whistleblower who triggered the lab investigation. A Republican senator, Charles Grassley of Iowa, suspected retaliation.

Some discipline is expected for agents who interrogated Atlanta security guard Richard Jewell months before he was cleared in last summer’s Olympic bombing. An FBI panel is weighing a separate Justice Department report in which Jewell’s lawyers claim agents tried to trick him into waiving his rights.

Others question whether agents focusing on Jewell ignored a lead from an Atlanta architect. FBI Olympic investigators now are checking on three men in custody in a Washington state bombing. The architect says one resembles a sketch he sent the bureau last summer of a man with a backpack in the Atlanta crowd.

Old problems linger: Agents, including former Deputy Director Larry Potts, are under investigation for an alleged cover-up in the deadly 1992 siege of separatist Randy Weaver’s family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho; and congressional Republicans remain irate because the FBI sent the Clinton White House background summaries on ex-employees.